Versatility, range and payload lift demonstrated in varied missions
With 58 A400M multi-role military transporters delivered to date by Airbus – including last friday’s handover of the German Air Force’s 16th from 53 on order – the workhorse aircraft is receiving high marks for its payload carrying capability, operational versatility, flight range and the ability to operate from short airfields.
The A400M is living up to the ‘Atlas’ nickname, having performed heavy-lift duties during missions ranging from supporting troops in counter-terrorism deployments to the delivery of humanitarian goods and airlifting relief supplies into disaster areas.
It has become favourite for pilots based on the airlifter’s crisp and precise handling thanks to Airbus’ proven fly-by-wire system, the excellent situational awareness with advanced head-up display, and powerful brakes for tight landing situations.
A large cargo hold, and “kneeling” capability for loading/unloading
Loadmasters – who are tasked with the safe loading, transportation and unloading of cargo – are united in their appreciation of the A400M’s large cargo hold with integral winch, the automatic load-locking system, and the aircraft’s “kneeling” ability that eases loading/unloading and reduces the rear ramp angle.
The French Air Force, which became the initial A400M Atlas operator in 2013, has received 13 of its 50 airlifters on order – regularly dispatching the aircraft with troops and equipment for two major French counter-terrorism deployments: Operation Chammal in the Middle East and Operation Barkhane in Africa. "With the A400M’s four powerful turboprop engines, we can carry enormous loads at incredible speed, enabling us to rapidly respond to crisis situations all over the world,” explained Captain Ronan, a pilot in the 1/61 Touraine squadron, a unit belonging to the French Air Force’s 61st Transport Wing. French Air Force A400M also assisted in rescue efforts in the islands affected by Hurricane Irma.
For the UK Royal Air Force, its first A400M operational tasking was to deliver much needed food, water and essential aid to UK Dependencies and other Caribbean islands in Operation Ruman after the region’s devastating hurricanes in 2017. Operation Ruman successfully utilised two aircraft for the Caribbean humanitarian flights in delivering tonnes of aid – providing significantly more payload per mission than smaller C-130 transporters that the A400M is replacing.
“Remarkable” A400M performance in Caribbean relief flights
“The A400M was remarkable in what it could do,” said Wing Commander Burdett of the RAF’s No. 24 Squadron. “It could take three times as much as a C-130 into a tight, small strip without taking any military risk in its performance. Whereas the C-130 was taking in five tonnes, the A400 would be taking in 15.”
Having received 18 A400Ms from the total 22 on order, other RAF operations performed by the Atlas are regular transport flights to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus in support of Operation Shader (the UK’s military intervention in Iraq and Syria), and the detachment of an aircraft to the Middle East in the backing of UK forces around the Arabian Gulf.
Additionally, Royal Air Force missions to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean have benefitted from the Atlas’ landing gear with 12 main wheels that distribute the A400M’s overall weight while on the ground. This makes the aircraft ‘light on its feet’ – invaluable for hauling heavy payloads while not causing runway damage, after concerns were raised about the island airfield’s landing surface condition.